House of Commons Hansard #103 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, June 4, 2008, immediately before the time provided for private member's business.

Suspension of Sitting
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The House is suspended to the call of the Chair. I serve notice that I will recall the House in about three minutes.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:59 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12:02 p.m.)

The House resumed from May 30 consideration of Bill C-50, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 26, 2008 and to enact provisions to preserve the fiscal plan set out in that budget, as reported (without amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

Noon

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to engage in the debate on Bill C-50. I will look particularly at the issue as it pertains to Part 6, which deals with changes to the Immigration Refugee Protection Act.

I will preface that by saying immigration has been the lifeblood, continues to be the lifeblood and will be the lifeblood of our country. We know in the next five years 100% of our net labour growth will be met by new immigrants. This is where we will have to look for growth. It is important for us to be cognizant of the demographic challenge we face as a nation.

I will go back a bit in the historical perspective, because there are a lot of things that are wrong with the bill.

First, the very fact that such huge, major changes to the Immigration Act are in a budget implementation bill is totally wrong. We heard in the House and across the country that it was not the way to deal with the legislation, to the extent the finance committee referred that section of the bill to the citizenship and immigration committee.

The committee unanimously passed a motion saying that part 6 pertaining to immigration should be struck from the bill because the changes contemplated would be major and would really determine, in a very real sense, the future of our country, the future population make-up of the country.

I said I wanted to go back and talk a bit about history. I remember when we changed the Immigration Act back in 2001. The changes proposed and ultimately adopted were ones that the citizenship and immigration committee itself opposed at the time. The reason we did that was we ended up with a very elitist point system. It essentially meant that many of the people the economy actually needed would not get into the country because of our immigration policies in terms of people applying to our country as economic class immigrants.

I want to underline that those changes were driven by the bureaucracy. I suppose it made their jobs easier, but it did not address the needs of our immigration system. One of the real disconcerting things about that, and as I said the bill was driven by the bureaucracy, was that we developed an elitist point system, which focused on education and abilities to speak the language.

By education. I mean university degrees or the ability to speak French or English. Those were the primary drivers of that point system. Under that point system, people like Frank Stronach of Magna International would never have come to Canada. Frank Hasenfratz, chairman of Linamar, who employs well over 10,000 people, would never have come to Canada. John A. Macdonald, the first prime minister of the our country would not have come to Canada, nor would Tommy Douglas. Wayne Gretzky's ancestors would not have come to Canada. Mike Lazaridis, the gentleman who invented the BlackBerry, which all members of the House like to use, would not have come to Canada because the system was too elitist.

When the committee tried to deal with the issues, when we tried to deal with the backlog, when we tried to deal with applying the new point system to ensure did not apply to people already in the queue, we were misinformed by the bureaucracy. This should be a real concern. It was not until the Dragan v. Canada case in the Federal Court, which dealt specifically with the issue, did we find that only was the committee misled by the bureaucracy, but governor in council was misled as well.

There is a basic problem with the way we make decisions around immigration issues. I have been on the citizenship and immigration committee since 1998, and during that time there have been seven immigration ministers. With seven ministers, the committee really did not have an opportunity to learn the file. The decision was, for the most part, and this has been my experience, driven by the bureaucracy.

The proposal in the legislation is not being driven by the present minister because she is a brand new minister. Her record of achievement includes being the first minister in a decade to miss our immigration targets of 240,000 to 265,000 people. She is also the minister who has created a record backlog in the refugee determination system. She is also the minister who denied the reality of lost Canadians, saying there were hundreds of people involved. Then we found out there were actually hundreds of thousands of lost Canadians, which necessitated the legislation. It is under the present minister that the backlog has grown by huge numbers. There was not a large backlog under the previous government.

The bill would remove certainty from people wishing to come to Canada. It would change dramatically the rules of those who play by the rules and qualify for entry. Instead of saying a visa would be issued to these folks, the legislation would say that a visa may be issued to them.

There are problems in our Immigration Act, but they are all fixable. The way we are proceeding, under a budget implementation act, without the scrutiny it should receive, we will not make the right decision any more now than we did in 2001. We are making the wrong decision now and it will totally destroy some of the good things in our immigration system like transparency and objectivity. Our system underlines a premise that has been copied by Australia, New Zealand and England. The United States is looking at it now.

We have to develop a points system that would mesh with what our economy needs. Under the proposed legislation, carpenters, or electricians or labourers, who we need, would not get in the country. These jobs are available all across Canada.

I travelled with the citizenship and immigration committee three times across Canada in the last five years. One thing that has become clear is the fact that there is a real disconnect between what the economy needs and what individuals we allow to come in under the points system.

It would be impossible for me to outline all the changes that I think should be made. I agree with most of the witnesses who appeared at committee. We can make changes that are transparent. We can make changes that will deal with the needs of the economy. We can do this with certainty.

The system we are devising would make us dependent on thousands of temporary foreign workers, yet the people at the lower end of the skill set would be unable to bring their families with them. This is reminiscent of the time when the Chinese were brought into our country to help build the railway in the late 1800s. When the railway was finished, we tried to get rid of them. We do not want to go down that path again.

We need an immigration system that is realistic. We need an immigration system that not only reflects family reunification, but also reflects what our economy needs. We can also make better use of humanitarian clauses as they relate to refugees.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia
B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I have a very high regard for the Liberal member. I know he is an honourable person. When I ask the following question, I hope he treats it as a very direct question from me.

I do not agree with a lot of what he said, and that is fine. This place is about that. It is a place of debate.

What I do not understand is if his colleagues in the rest of his party are of the same mind as himself, what we can expect in terms of a vote from his party? There is all this talk about voting strategically and all these things, and that is fine. However, this place should have something to do with principles.

I know the gentleman is a man of principle, as I like to think of myself as being. Could we anticipate that all the concerns he has expressed and those expressed by other members of his party will be reflected in the way they vote tonight?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member says that he does not agree with what I said, but what I said was pretty well true as the message relates to the immigration system. I am sure if my colleague across the way heard all I said and if we could be involved in a dialogue, I am sure he would agree with me.

I voted along with my colleagues on the citizenship and immigration committee against Bill C-50. I voted for the report. I expect I will do that again.

My positioning in the House, where I stand and sit, is exactly because I have voted the way I said I would on particular issues.

If some of my colleagues engage in strategic voting, then I guess the determination has been made by my party that they do not want to trigger an election on this issue because they think there is a more appropriate issue on which to trigger an election. I am really mindful and concerned of the political games that the government has been playing with this issue.

As soon as Bill C-50 came down, and I have said it publicly and in the press, I said that the government was looking to do a little immigrant bashing. The Conservatives saw what happened in the province of Quebec in the last provincial election. They saw the position advanced by the ADQ. They also saw the reaction to the reasonable accommodation debate in the province of Quebec. I believe the government made a conscious decision not to deal with legislation on immigration, but to take advantage of those feelings, hoping that it might win it a few more seats.

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Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that the hon. member has been punished by his Liberal leader for taking principled stands in the House of Commons. In no way should members of the Liberal Party be allowing Bill C-50 to go through. The Liberal Party should be standing with the NDP, as is the Bloc, to block the legislation. It is a question of immigration fairness.

Given that the Liberal Party has said it is opposed to Bill C-50, will the member press his leader to have Liberals in the House vote and stop this bill? If the Liberal Party votes against it, the bill is stopped.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

June 2nd, 2008 / 12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have made representations of those kinds. Whether they succeed or do not succeed will be obvious when we vote on the bill.

Also, the Liberal Party does not have the same kind of luxury as the New Democratic Party or the Bloc have in not being the official opposition. If we vote against the legislation, we know there will be an election and that is a determination for the leader to make.

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Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, perhaps no other area is indicative of the kind of incompetence we have seen over the last 20 years as the immigration area.

Essentially, under the former Liberal government and under the current Conservative government, we have seen chronic underfunding in immigration, which has led to huge backlogs developing.

The immigration system is a lot like the health care system. If we underfund it, if beds are not in place and if we do not have doctors and nurses staffing a hospital, then an adequate degree of health care cannot be provided.

That is exactly what we have seen from this chronic obsession with corporate tax cuts that has developed, particularly over the last 15 years.

The Conservatives and Liberals have been falling over each other trying to see who can give the biggest corporate tax cut to the most profitable companies in Canada without any exchange of jobs or any positive economic repercussions, which I will come back to in a moment. We have seen underfunding in immigration that has led to a crisis in the immigration sector.

The member for Kitchener—Waterloo said that this was a recent development, that the hundreds of thousands of people in the backlog in the system is a result of recent Conservative policies.

The Conservatives have mismanaged and botched this file enormously but to be fair to them, 700,000 of the over 900,000 people who are now in backlog in the system come from the former Liberal government. That chronic mismanagement, that underfunding, that inability to adequately staff consular offices and embassies around the world so we can adequately deal with the immigration work the government must be dealing with, started under the Liberals. We have seen mismanagement from the former Liberal government and mismanagement from the current Conservative government, and that has led to this backlog of nearly one million individuals.

What is the solution? The NDP has been saying very clearly what the solution needs to be. We need to invest in the immigration system so that it functions, in the same way we need to invest in the health care system. The government has to stop this appalling obsession with bigger and bigger corporate tax cuts, which has led over the last 20 years to two-thirds of Canadians earning less now than they were in 1989.

That strategy, that one note band that we have seen under the Liberals and the Conservatives, clearly has not functioned. We need to reinvest so that we have a federal government and government institutions that are functioning effectively. Instead of doing that, we have the Conservatives trying to rewrite the rule book. They realize the backlog is too long so under Bill C-50 in the immigration provision they give the minister dictatorial powers to simply delete names from a list.

Does that make any sense whatsoever? If the backlog is a problem, we give the minister power to delete names. That is essentially what the Conservatives are offering.

They have another strategy. They want to turn the immigration system from encouraging family reunification and encouraging building communities. In my community in Burnaby—New Westminster, the bulk of the community has come from immigration over time and those families who have reunited here in Canada have helped to build and underpin the growth of our communities.

Instead of doing that, the Conservatives have decided that they want to import temporary foreign workers at lower wages and not subject to health and safety standards, essentially indentured servants. They will be brought in by companies but if they quit or are fired because of appalling working conditions, they will be sent home.

That is not how Canada was built. I had hoped that we had learned the lessons of the 19th century and the appalling racism that existed then but, no. We see the Conservatives trying to re-enact the kind of indentured servitude that we saw in the past.

The NDP is opposing this legislation because it simply does not make sense. The Conservatives lack managerial capacity. It is obvious from the fact that the Minister of International Trade now holds four ministerial portfolios because there is nobody, outside of himself, who is considered by the Prime Minister to actually have the ministerial competence to handle a ministry.

The Conservatives, obviously, are unable to effectively manage government institutions. We see the net result of that in the government's great strategy. The brain trusts, the rocket scientists in the PMO have solved the problem. They want to give the minister the power to delete names from the list and then we no longer have a waiting list.

We can extend this to other areas as well, such as health care. Why do we not just delete sick patients from the list and then all of a sudden the Canadian population would be much healthier? The Conservative approach to management boggles the mind. When we say “effective Conservative management”, that is an oxymoron.

We have a bad bill. We have a bill that does not deal with the backlog and the chronic underfunding in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. It simply gives the minister power to delete names and bring in temporary foreign workers. The NDP rises in the House and says that it will fight this bill on behalf of new Canadians from coast to coast to coast because it is bad policy and it is bad for Canada.

The folks who actually caused the immigration backlog, or most of it, the 700,000 names that were on the backlog list until January 2006 under the Liberal watch, they say that that they opposed to the bill but that they will let it go through. Some members will speak against it, and some principled members, like the member from Kitchener, will actually vote against it, but the leader of the Liberal Party will let this bill go through. It is absolutely appalling.

If the Liberals recognize that this is a completely wrong-headed approach to dealing with the crisis of underfunding in the immigration department, then they should have the courage of their convictions to stand in the House of Commons and vote against this bill. They should follow the lead of the NDP and the member for Toronto—Danforth and say that this is bad for Canada and that they will vote against it.

We know that will not happen because we have seen, over the past year, time and time again, the Liberal leader prop up and support the Conservative government on all issues, not just on immigration and on the budget, but on the security and prosperity partnership and a wide range of issues. On the war in Afghanistan, we saw the Liberals as simply an appendage of the Conservative government. That is just not good enough.

Members of Parliament are elected to stand in the House and vote. Members of Parliament are elected to take principled stands when we know a bill is bad for Canada and that it will harm this country and the approach we have had on immigration which has helped to build better communities across this country from coast to coast to coast. When we know a bill is bad it is our job to stand in the House and oppose it. The leader of the Liberal Party, however, will not oppose any Conservative policy that has a confidence vote attached to it. The Conservatives essentially have free rein.

In the few moments I have remaining, I would like to deal with some of the myths and misconceptions that the Conservatives have put out about Bill C-50. One of the things the Conservatives have said is that they have welcomed more people to Canada. That is not true. In fact, the landed immigrant status numbers have gone down.

However, what has happened is an explosion of temporary foreign workers, indentured servants, who are being brought into Canada on a temporary basis if they are on good behaviour with their companies. As we have seen in many cases, people are working 70 or 80 hour weeks with no overtime and are often being paid below minimum wage. They are not subject to health and safety standards. If they speak out about being paid minimum wage or below minimum wage they could get shipped back home. It is simply not true that the numbers have increased.

Bill C-50 contains nothing to deal with the fundamental mismanagement that we saw under the Liberal Party and now under the Conservative Party. It contains nothing to deal with the fundamental truth that neither of those parties are very good managers. It is for those reasons that the NDP will rise in the House and oppose the bill.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, in terms of dealing with the numbers, an important concept for us to understand is that we let in about 250,000 immigrants a year. About 300,000 to 400,000 people wishing to come to Canada make application. As long as we have a mismatch between the number of people wishing to come here and the number of people we actually let in, we will have a growing backlog.

Last year the government said that it brought in 430,000 newcomers to Canada. If all those people coming into Canada were immigrants that would have helped to deal with the backlog. However, the problem was that about 190,000 of them were people with temporary status, about two-thirds of them were temporary foreign workers and one-third of them were foreign students. Had we applied the whole 430,000 to deal with the backlog, we would have made a dent. Instead, we have bumped up the numbers by close to 100,000 people in terms of the backlog itself, even though we brought in an extra 190,000 people.

I agree with my colleague across the way. This is really dangerous. Will Canada become a country of temporary foreign workers or will we bring in people who will make an investment and help us build a country? Will we be bringing in temporary foreign workers, the ones on the lower end who are in a virtually indentured situation, a servitude situation where if they step out of line they will get booted out of the country, or will we bring in people who have many skills? For those lower skilled workers, however, the government is proposing to give them temporary permits so they cannot apply for landed status. Does my colleague have a comment on that?

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12:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, yes, I do. The bill should be called “Bill C-50, the indentured servant act” because I think that portrays the Conservative Party's intention behind this bill. It wants to bring in indentured servants, to turn the clock back to the 19th century, obviously considered halcyon days for the Conservative Party.

It is more than just underfunding at embassies and consulates around the world. There are other problems that we do not have time to go into. We are talking about chronic underfunding in English language programs to actually allow that transition for landed immigrants or refugees when they come to Canada to actually get into the job market and make their contribution.

We have chronic underfunding in British Columbia. It has been disadvantaged by both the former Liberal government and the current Conservative government in terms of per capita immigration funding. Other provinces get much more support for immigration than British Columbia gets. We feel this acutely in the area of Burnaby—New Westminster where a lot of new Canadians, about half of all refugees into British Columbia, come. There is not sufficient funding for ESL nor for that transition.

We need a reinvestment in our immigration system and we did not see that from the former Liberals nor have we seen it from the current Conservatives.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia
B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I cannot let the member get away with calling this the indentured servant thing. That is just a pile of hooey.

What we have at this particular point is the opportunity for people to come to Canada and work with employers in Canada. All of their protection is in place. For the member to be characterizing it the way he is, is deeply regrettable. The employers of Canada need these workers and the workers want to come to Canada. I wish the member would--

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster has 30 seconds for his response.

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Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think the facts prove that the Conservative pretensions around this bill are hooey. We have seen a rapid rise in temporary foreign workers. The hon. parliamentary secretary knows full well that they are not subject to Canadian health and safety regulations nor are they subject to any of the provisions that exist under the Labour Code, which is why we have had controversy--

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
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12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Don Valley East.